A managing director who abused a 14-year-old schoolgirl after meeting her on a website where users rate each other as ‘snog, marry or avoid’ has been jailed.
Paedophile Gareth Hughes, from Stockport, was 36 when he told his victim he was 10 years younger when he met her on Snog.fm, a website popular with teenagers.
He then started Skype conversations with the girl before picking her up from school and taking her to his flat for sex, which he filmed and saved on his computer in a file called ‘filth’.
The abuse continued until the girl was 18, during which time she even wrote a story about sexual abuse in her English class.
The prosecutor said: ‘When the teacher asked the girl what the inspiration was she said: “Isn’t it obvious I have been raped?”‘
After she turned 18, the girl realised what Hughes had put her through. She told her family what had happened after Hughes came around for dinner and the father of two, now 43, was arrested. He has now been jailed for six years and eight months.
The court heard the girl was one of three victims Hughes abused, one of two he met through Snog.fm. He groomed and picked her up for sex at a time his partner was expecting their baby.
Hughes filmed and photographed one of his victims. He had abuse images of children as young as five on his computer
Prosecutor Simone Flynn told the court: ‘He told her he was 26 when he was 36 which was outside the age range of the usual users of that site. They were usually between 15 and 18.
‘She told him she was 16, she considered him to be funny and she felt flattered because the defendant liked her.
‘He would ask her to strip on video and he would do the same. They spoke on Skype and a few weeks later they met, and he took her back to his flat to have sex.
‘He asked her if she was really 16 she then told him that she was 14 he then revealed he was 36 and they agreed to continue to meet up. She found out he had a girlfriend who was pregnant with their first child he wanted to make things work with his girlfriend but said he and the victim should still continue to meet.
‘They would meet three times a week he would pick her up straight from school and they would have sex, he would record what they were doing and take photographs of her lying naked on the bed.’
Hughes was arrested after the girl told her parents what had happened. He went on the run after he was bailed but was tracked down
The abuse was reported after the girl became 18 and realised what had happened was wrong.
She spoke to her parents and Hughes came to her house for dinner to discuss their relationship, but the girl later gave her parents a letter revealing she first had sex with Hughes when she was 14.
The family went to police soon after the dinner, the court heard.
In a statement to police setting out the impact, she wrote: ‘I have suicidal feelings that are impossible to control. Sometimes I feel like I cease to exist, the only thing that has stopped me from committing suicide is that when I was 18 my best friend killed herself.
‘I have nightmares about the abuse, sometimes I have flashbacks during consensual sexual encounters, it has caused me emotional damage that will last as long as I live.
‘He made the repeated decision that his sexual gratification was more important than the mental health of myself and the other victims.’
The court heard another of Hughes’ victims was a friend of the first, who he tried to get to have a threesome.
The third victim was contacted via Snog.fm by Hughes who encouraged her to send naked photographs of herself.
Hughes was arrested at work and police found 260 indecent and extreme photos and videos – one of a five-year-old – of two computers and an iPhone.
At Manchester’s Minshall Street Crown Court, he was jailed for more than six years
After being released, he went on the run but was tracked down in London and arrested again in January.
Jailing him, Judge Paul Lawton said: ‘It is overwhelmingly clear from the evidence that you have a sexual interest in young teenage girls.
‘You are a highly educated but manipulative man and you have a lack of insight into your offending. The ages and stage of growth of the girls only highlights the need for the law to protect them from themselves – you have caused life-long psychological damage.’
After the case, Det Con Jon Greenslade said: ‘Hughes is a predatory paedophile who targeted a young girl less than half his age. He was fully aware of the girl’s age but decided to pursue the relationship nevertheless – making indecent pictures and videos of her.
‘His electronic devices contained numerous chat logs with many young females from different countries who he had engaged in sexual conversations with.
‘After being arrested, he attempted to avoid prosecution – he used numerous phone numbers, rented a flat in false name and began working in short term contracted jobs all over the country. But ultimately he could not evade justice and he’s had to answer for his past behaviour.’
What is snog.fm?
Snog.fm, also know as snog.me, is a website set up by two university graduates inspired by the TV show Snog, Marry, Avoid.
Similar to the Facemash website created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when he was at Harvard, it allows users to say whether they would snog, marry or avoid other users.
After it launched eight years ago, it was described as ‘a way for young people to break the ice and interact without the awkwardness of traditional dating sites’.
It became popular with teenagers, and at one point attracted 1.5million page views a day.
The website does not allow under 16s to sign up, but there appears to be few methods of preventing younger children giving a false date of birth.